At Capital Pride Festival, Conversation Centers on Same-Sex Marriage Laws

By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 15, 2009

There was a sense of urgency, a sense of defiance, in the way same-sex couples held hands or pushed their children in strollers yesterday at the Capital Pride festival. Politics nearly always takes center stage at the annual event set in the shadow of the Capitol, and the couples this year had something specific on their minds.

Same-sex marriages -- the legally recognized kind.

Last week, the battle intensified as the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics had a hearing on whether to hold a referendum to block a bill legalizing same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.

The D.C. Council has passed legislation recognizing such marriages, but that awaits Congress's stamp of approval.

"If the nation's capital starts recognizing gay marriage, then it's not far behind that these other states will start going along with it," said Kristen Ezzell, 35, of the District, who was at the festival yesterday with her wife, Shae Agee, 41. "I just want to be able to walk down the street and hold my wife's hand like everybody else."

Local resistance to recognizing same-sex marriages has come most prominently from black ministers, who are pushing for a referendum that would allow voters to tackle the issue directly. Dale Wafer, a pastor with a Northeast Washington religious community called the Harvest, said Friday that he sees the referendum as "the only way to undo bad policy that the District council has enacted," and he rejects the argument that opening up the issue to a vote will incite homophobia.

"Any debate can stir up any type of passions," Wafer said. "You can't control people's passions, but that should not stop the dialogue."

D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who sponsored the legislation, said residents already elected legislators who "overwhelmingly decided" to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.

The debate is especially significant for Ezzell and Agee, who were married last year in Toronto. Ezzell is black, and both she and her wife identify as Christians. The fact that black Christians have formed the face of some of their opponents, they said, is troubling.

"People don't equate being gay and Christian, and that's also our pride," Agee said.

For some yesterday, though, simply having the District recognize marriages performed elsewhere isn't enough. Lisette Bergeron, 41, and her wife, Wanda Brown, 42, said they are hoping for nothing less than federal recognition. The couple was married in California and "unionized" in Vermont, but they live in Herndon, where recognizing same-sex marriage seems a distant possibility.

"We don't live in D.C., and while I support their efforts, I find it kind of mind-boggling that we try to recognize things and not recognize things that are happening," Bergeron said.

Jim Brevard, 52, of Falls Church said he would consider moving to the District if the city were to recognize his marriage, performed in California.

"And who knows?" he said. "Just before we die, we might get our marriage recognized in Virginia. Guys can hope."

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